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Solar panels help offset electricity costs

December 17, 2015 – Poughkeepsie Journal

Cutting back on the use of appliances and goods that consume electricity is one way residents and business owners can trim costs for their electric usage. Going solar is another.

Solar power, where electricity is generated from sunlight to power electric goods, homes and businesses, can help offset a homeowner’s and business’ costs for electricity by supplementing or even out-pacing the amount of needed power provided by a municipal power grid.

According to the Solar Energies Industries Association, almost 784,000 homes and businesses in the U.S. use solar power, including more than 135,000 solar installations in the first half of 2015. In all, more than 22,700 megawatts (one megawatt equals 1 million watts) of solar electricity currently is produced in the country, in effect, the amount of energy it would take to power some 4.6 million average American homes.

“Year after year, we’re seeing the demand for solar energy skyrocket because people across America are adding solar to their homes and businesses to save money. The word is out that, in many cases, solar is the lowest cost option for electricity,” SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch said via email. “Solar works in all 50 states, has zero carbon emissions, creates more jobs per megawatt than any other technology, and can be deployed cost-effectively and quickly — all while improving grid reliability. The solar investment tax credit has helped catapult solar into the fastest growing energy source in America, allowing hardworking families access to the clean, reliable, affordable energy they deserve.”

John Wackman, program manager of Solarize Hudson Valley, a three-year, regional campaign of Sustainable Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountainkeeper that’s funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, is designed to educate home and business owners on what’s involved in going solar through workshops at host communities. In Dutchess County, Beacon recently was a host city for the workshops, with more workshops for the county to be hosted by cities affiliated with the Northern Dutchess Alliance.

Often, Wackman said, workshop participants ask if it’s best to buy or lease a solar power system for their home or business.

“If you can’t benefit from the tax credits then leasing is the better option,” Wackman said, depending on an individual’s personal and financial circumstances.

For those that opt to buy a solar power system, a 30 percent federal tax credit and a 10 percent New York state credit of up to $5,000 is available to buyers, although both are set to expire at the end of 2016. Cash incentives for the installation of the systems by qualifying installers are available through NYSERDA, although those, too, are tapering off.

Solar power systems convert sunlight into electricity, reducing the need for electricity from conventional power grids. Here, a 5-kilowatt roof-mounted solar system was fitted on a home in Rhinebeck by Hudson Solar of Rhinebeck. (Photo: Courtesy photo)
Unlike leased systems, whose care and maintenance is handled by the system provider, the upkeep of solar systems bought by a homeowner is his responsibility, Wackman said, making it essential that the system is made and installed by a reputable company with a strong warranty policy.

Melissa Everett, executive director of Sustainable Hudson, said financing the cost of a solar power system is like that of buying a car, where it would be paid off in seven or eight years.

“Purchasing ultimately saves you more money, but leasing makes cash-flow more manageable,” she said, and so, might be suitable for people that are just starting out or in retirement.

Jeff Irish, owner of Hudson Solar in Rhinebeck, has been installing solar panel power systems in homes and businesses since the company was established in 2002. Now the company boasts 50 employees that cover the Hudson Valley and New York’s Capital District, including all design, engineering, installation and customization required for each installation.

“Savings are part of it,” Irish said of solar’s popularity. “Some people also just want to know that they’re getting some of their electricity from a clean source. It’s something they can control.”

Irish said when it comes to having a solar panel power system installed, home and business owners have the choice of buying or leasing the system from a provider.

“Leasing has become very popular recently,” he said. “It can be easy to do. You don’t have to write a check up front or arrange for financing. It’s all done for you.”

But, he said, it’s expensive.

Leasing, Irish said, generally requires a long-term agreement whose total cost can be double that of an outright purchase, typically, about $10,000 after incentives and rebates, with loans available like those for any home improvement project. The return on investment for a solar power system normally runs between five and seven years, Irish said, depending on the building’s site. For instance, an unshaded, south-facing roof for the solar panels would provide optimal results.

As well, while solar panels can heighten a home’s value, Irish said a leased system can detract from it, since it’s likely that the residence’s new owner would have to assume the costs for the system per the lease agreement.

Irish said before investing in a solar panel system, it’s important to be sure of its quality. All systems installed by his company come with a 10-year warranty, including a 25-year warranty on the roof-top solar modules.

“If it’s designed and installed right, there shouldn’t be any problem,” he said.

Karen Maserjian Shan is a freelance writer: mkshan@optonline.net

To buy or lease solar panels?

  • Understand how much electricity your home uses and what you pay for it.
  • Know whether your home’s roof is appropriate for solar. Does it receive a good amount of sunlight or is it mostly shaded? What’s the roof’s age?
  • Have a clear understanding of your finances before investing in a system.
  • Get multiple bids for your solar system and compare costs and terms.
  • Research your solar company by asking for references of solar installations in your area and call them. Ask to see proof they are licensed and check with your county or state to ensure the firm is in good standing.
  • Understand tax credits or other incentives. Visit Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy for information: www.dsireusa.org
  • Learn about any potential tax implications of credits or incentives by talking with a tax professional or attorney that has proven experience with solar.

Source: SEIA Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power – June 2015,http://bit.ly/1lQih2u

Resources:

  • Solarize Hudson Valley: http://solarize-hudsonvalley.org/
  • Hudson Solar: http://hvce.com/
  • Solar Energies Industries Association: www.seia.org/

Tax credits for solar systems:

  • Federal: http://1.usa.gov/1OdlT6J
  • New York state: http://on.ny.gov/1ciXtn8
  • Cash incentives, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority: http://on.ny.gov/1P7s9hy

Posted in General, Hudson Solar, News.